From solar cell scholar to educator: Rathnasekara’s research journey - The University of Tulsa
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From solar cell scholar to educator: Rathnasekara’s research journey

Student research is one of The University of Tulsa’s highest priorities. Rusiri Rathnasekara, who received her doctorate in physics in May 2023, serves as a testament to this commitment.

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Rathnasekara’s research focused on evaluating Ag-doped ZnO nanostructures for dye-sensitized solar cells, which reduces the cost of fabrication and improves the conversion efficiency for devices that use sunlight to produce electricity. The result of this research has turned into five first-author papers, three of which have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Two are awaiting publication.

Rathnasekara received her bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in Sri Lanka. During her final year of undergrad, she conducted research related to solar cells.

Engaging deeply with her academic pursuits, Rathnasekara also participated in workshops dedicated to solar cells and completed research assistant internships based around the same subject. “My enthusiasm for researching solar cells had been made very clear by the time I arrived in the United States for study,” she said.

Guided by mentorship

Upon her arrival at TU, Rathnasekara’s research centered around nanomaterial-based solar cells. She spoke with physics professor and Oklahoma Photovoltaic Research Institute Director Parameswar Hari about her passion for the study.

“Dr. Hari was my adviser, and he provided me with opportunities, enormous support, and guidance during my work,” Rathnasekara said. “His knowledge, experience, and interests have always encouraged me to improve my research skills and build self-confidence.”

Rathnasekara’s hard work was brought to light when physics students called her help as a teaching assistant the highlight of their student experience. “I strongly feel that Rusiri’s heart is in the right place,” Hari said.

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Rathnasekara (right) with TU President Brad R. Carson

Rathnasekara expressed her gratitude toward TU’s Graduate School for the invaluable support she received throughout her academic journey.

“I received a graduate assistantship from 2017 to 2023, and I got a travel grant from the Graduate Student Association,” she said. These experiences facilitated her studies and enhanced her overall learning experience.

Recognizing excellence, fulfilling dreams

Rathnasekara’s dedication paid off in several ways. Last spring, she received the Distinguished Graduate Student Award, which she called a thrilling experience. “It meant that my hard work was being acknowledged,” she said.

Rathnasekara recently completed a summer position in the Department of Physical Science at Tulsa Community College as an adjunct professor. “It was a great start for me,” she said. And in August,  Rathnasekara started as an assistant professor in the physics department at Southern Nazarene University.

Explore how TU’s commitment to student growth and research can help you achieve your own dreams by exploring our academic programs today.